On Hipsters: Pulling the Wool Over a Winking Inauthenticity

Or: Hipsterdom Reaches Critical Mass
Or: They Don’t Die, They Multiply (and That Totally Kills Them).

Webcomics. Social linking sites. Fashion magazines. The term “hipster” isn’t just for twenty-five cent zines at the Bikerowave anymore.

If you’ve heard the term “hipster” anywhere lately, chances are it was while someone was discussing one of three things: (1) Whether they exist at all, (2) how to spot one if they do, and/or (3) where the hell one might buy the latest in fashionable plaid-wear.

The answers to these questions, respectively, are:
1. Yes, but in such numbers they’re hard to spot.
2. The ever-growing lexicon of retro aesthetic.
3. Every clothing store in Silverlake.

Just like your English teacher taught you, the above section was the introduction of this essay. Next I will have a body expounding upon my three main points in the order stated, followed by a brief conclusion in which I summarize and restate. Just keepin’ real here, people.

1. They Don’t Die, They Multiply
On this first point, allow me to briefly qualify myself. I was writing about hipsters back when they were on vinyl. Just kidding; it’s honestly a subject I’ve tried to avoid writing about in the past. But I did banter around hipster circles for about six months back in 2007, when I left my corporate Hollywood job and began work as a studio engineer for the Dust Brothers. The Boat, which has since been bought by Flea (who totally fired all my friends, by the way), is located near Hyperion and Griffith Park. Try and count all the ironic neck tattoos in that area on a Friday night and you’ll run out of toes. While working there I had a weird haircut and at one point dyed my hair royal blue. I never dressed right and was always a little outcast. In short, I didn’t “get it”. Not at that point in my life, anyway.

There are just a few things you need to know about the hipster-as-myth argument. Firstly, if someone opens with this question, and they are under thirty, they probably are one. They are likely not a Strong Hipster, who have taken the concept of self-awareness to such an extreme that their irony meter has gone full circle and made them simply honest people. The far more common Weak Hipster is in denial, and may even refer to themselves as “scenesters” instead.

We are forced to break the hipster phenomenon down further and further into categories because there are just so damn many of them now. To a hipster, this is an extremely strong argument in favor of the hipster-as-myth, because hipster communities are highly self-contained. They rarely leave their bubble for the same reason any other clique sticks to what they know: the outside world is scary. This is true for hipsters, desert ravers, and the extreme bourgeois alike. You always feel like the whole world is the same as you, because, as far as you can see, it is. However, they are wrong. The world is bigger than that. There are plenty of twenty-somethings trying to get into big business, or who are creative but not retro, etc., it’s just that the various scenes don’t generally mix. Which brings us to the next section of the body portion of this essay.

2. Hipsters Are Strictly Retro
This is your first clue when hipster-spotting, which is sort of like Trainspotting minus Ceiling Baby. As hinted above, there is a sliding scale on which we can rate a person’s placement in the hipster spectrum. There are those who are both hipsters and modern gamers (i.e., play Call of Duty or WoW in addition to obscure games on the SNES you’ve never heard of). There are quite a few who don’t dress like that at work, or have tattoos not visible in business casual. But the thing that you must realize is this: They must be retro. If they are not retro, then they are not hipsters.

The five eras most commonly seen in hipster communities are: Grunge, New Wave, Dada, Beat, and Post-war. I am of the opinion that the further back one’s style harkens chronologically, the more likely they are to be a Strong Hipster, with the pin-up girls at the top of the pyramid and the Nirvana-grunge wearing males being the lazy ones at the bottom of the heap. This is not always the case, however, as an example of a grunge era offshoot would be the hipster cowboy, who is generally well-respected in his field and does not necessarily have to have a Hank Williams concert screen print on his wall. You will also see the pseudo-Ginsbergs/Dalis/Basquiats/Bowies aplenty, and you will know that they art hipster.

But this is not their mark. These are merely clues. This third point is the clincher:

3. A Winking Inauthenticity
Okay, I lied. I apologize to you, Mrs. Bivins, for deviating from my bullet points at the top of this essay.

The third point I want to make is straight from the Wikipedia entry on hipsters. There is a reason the parlance for not identifiying with the aesthetic is the same as one who doesn’t laugh at a joke: “They just don’t get it.” I have heard some slightly older people (generally early thirties and upward), claim that “hipster” is synonymous with “poseur”, but this is not correct. The former is an evolution of the latter.

You see, the irony is a defense mechanism against poseurishness. By being self-aware, the hipster is afforded the luxury of low-risk artistic expression. The phrase “admiration by imitation” best describes the artistic output of your average hipster. By purposefully applying a laundry-list of trends from certain historic grassroots artistic movements, one does not have to actually be talented, merely authentic, thus inspiring a cerebrally nostalgic sentimentality for a time when Art Was Real, when the World Wasn’t Wrapped In Plastic, when Artistic Freedom Ran Free In Free Places Which Was Everywhere. It is a representative aesthetic which requires only that one’s expression be (to paraphrase Mike Patton) valid, but not necessarily good. Deep down most know their nostalgia is contrived, but isn’t that why it’s so funny?

I have always respected the hipster community for the ability to laugh at itself. As hipsterdom garners more attention from the likes of Vogue and Vanity Fair, it grows obvious that it is well on its way to dying by way of intense propagation, much like our favorite graduation song that made our left eye tic involuntarily after the thousandth listen. The flow of history, however, is not circular, but helixed, and I am one of those paltry few who believe that the human race is moving upward, not downward, in quality. No matter the atrocities committed by the status quo while in their death throes — and I’m speaking here of the RIAA and popular radio, of course — the accessibility of knowledge is spreading like wildfire worldwide, and thus will power continue to flow out of the establishment and into the hands of the young, the downtrod, the impoverished, and those who at least pretend to be impoverished even if their parents are actually paying the rent.

I believe I’ll conclude with what I hope the world will learn from the Hipster Era:
1. There is great value in artistic truth.
2. That, as fun as Gaga is to dance to, in the end it’s The Black Keys we can listen to repeatedly sans eye-tic.
3. And, finally, I hope we remember how important it is to not take ourselves too seriously. After all, it’s all just one big joke anyway, right?

Get it?

Paul Matthis is a writer for nobody and doesn’t have anything impressive to say here.

About the author


View all posts

1 Comment

Leave a Reply